Kolo Toure showed the way for others … now he wants to become the first African manager of the Premier League
Perhaps the best story of Kolo Toure’s time in English football came on the very first day.
Toure, just 20 at the time in 2002, was eager to make an impression and he remains to this day. After making a path off the Ivory Coast on the field, he now wants to do the same as manager.
Kolo Toure is determined to be the first ever African manager of the Premier League in the future
“One of the most important things for me is that I am from Africa,” Toure says Sports email.
“As you know, there are not many African managers in the top leagues. I really want to represent Africa. I have a dream that one day an African team can win the World Cup. This is what I work for. ”
Toure played 120 times for his country and was part of the team that won the Africa Cup of Nations five years ago. He is remembered for his years with Arsenal – where he was part of the 2003-04 Invincibles team – and subsequent spells in Manchester City – with which he won a second Premier League title – and Liverpool.
He is currently part of Brendan Rodgers’ coaching staff in Leicester, having previously worked at Celtic under the leadership of his former Liverpool manager.
“At the end of my career as a player, I thought about what I could offer the world,” he says.
“What can I bring to football? What is my strength in my life? I was thinking about other sectors like finance, but I soon found out that I wouldn’t be as effective as I would like to be.
“All I really knew and liked was football. The only industry I felt I could really bring some creativity to was football.
“I have my experience and knowledge of the game. That’s why I’m still in it. I want to pass it on to the young generation. ‘
The former defender is currently part of Brendan Rodgers’ coaching staff in Leicester City
Toure spoke Sports email recently in St George’s Park on a break from a media training day that is part of the UEFA Pro License coaching badge.
Now 39, he was always an affable, lovable type and that hasn’t changed. For example, when asked about his views on Liverpool’s recent 3-0 defeat at Watford – a setback that meant they could no longer match Arsenal’s unbeaten season 16 years ago – he tried to show a face of indifference, only to break into a grin accompanied by a small fist pump.
In football – quite rightly – these things will always matter.
Toure was a fast and intelligent central defender. He won a Premier League title and two FA Cups with Arsenal and was on the team that lost the Champions League final to Barcelona in 2006.
“When I came here, nobody from Ivory Coast was in the Premier League,” he said.
“There was no one to look for inspiration. We had players like Kanu (who is Nigerian), but not from my country. I am used to that situation and have no idol or role models. But I like the idea of inspiring people. They can see that things are possible.
“When I got here, I felt I had to do everything right. Because if you are the first player to come from your country, people will judge every other Ivory Coast player on how you do it. I was very proud of that, because Didier Drogba, my brother Yaya, Didier Zokora, Gervinho and Salomon Kalou all came here to express their talent. ”
After struggling in his early days to face the English weather – ‘Even when it’s sunny, you’ll always need a coat in this country’ – Toure eventually followed a beaten track from Arsenal to rainy Manchester, as City’s new wealth allowed them to pair Kolo and Yaya – bought at record wages from Barcelona – for the first time at the same club.
The 39-year-old was part of the historic Arsenal Invincibles team in the 2003-2004 season
He also won the African Cup of Nations with the Ivory Coast in 2015 and made a total of 120 caps
To this day, English football supporters serenade both men with a song started by City supporters but quickly hijacked by fans of all sports across Europe.
“I’m honestly surprised at that,” he smiled. “And I never had a chance to say thanks to the people who started it. It touches my heart. When you come to another country and people hug you and like you, praise you and even sing your name? It is incredible for me and my brother.
“Fifteen years ago, if someone had told me,” Kolo, people will sing your name all over the UK, “I would have said,” Are you kidding or not? ”
Toure believes that Yaya was the “better player” of the two, but he was the fitter himself. That is probably correct. Kolo certainly had slightly softer edges than his more confrontational younger brother, who left City rather bitterly after an up-and-down relationship with coach Pep Guardiola.
“Yaya was a better player than me and I think he did better here than I did,” Toure said.
“I am more competitive than him. He is more talented. I was a better runner and I work hard. If Yaya had my job [ethic], with his talent he would have won the Ballon D’Or.
“He’s a nice man. He is a nice, nice guy and sometimes there is a misunderstanding about his communication, because English is not our first language. Sometimes you can say things you don’t really mean. But because you’re on it, you just keep talking, and that can work against you. But deep down, he’s a nice guy, and I know he loves City. ‘
He joined Manchester City in 2009 and won the Premier League title in 2012
He later joined Liverpool, where he was defeated by his former squad in the 2016 League Cup final
Toure Snr’s own city career was devastated by the one major misstep of his career, a failed drug test in 2011. It was found to have the banned substance bendroflumethiazide in his system, it was attributed to a water tablet he took from his wife in a attempt to lose weight.
Although Toure was never charged with willful insult, he became the first Premier League player to fail a test for seven years and was banned for six months.
After never discussing it extensively before, Toure said, “It was difficult. Very very difficult. As a man you want to be perfect. But of course things come along and you have to deal with that. It was a difficult and difficult time for me and my family. The worst thing was to do something and not know that I had done something wrong.
“All I did was take something to make me pee more. I am very careful with my weight. Even now I weigh myself almost every day because I don’t want to put it on. I’ve been doing that since the beginning of my career.
“My weight had moved up and down a bit and if you weigh two, three, four pounds, you are a different player. I was just shocked when I was told I had failed a test. I honestly was.
“What hurt a lot more was that my 15-year-old daughter just came up to me and said to me,” Dad, did you use drugs? “I think one of the boys in school made a comment to her. I said to her, “No, no, honey, it’s not that.”
“When people in the football world say ‘drugs’, it could just mean something that is forbidden and that you cannot have. But it is not cocaine or anything. So that had to hurt a little bit. That was the bad side of it – then explaining. “I said she shouldn’t worry, but I felt like I hurt her a little bit.”
Many of the major African players playing in England have opted for a lower profile since retirement. Kanu, also from Arsenal once, lives quietly in Hertfordshire, while former Chelsea striker Drogba has not been directly involved in the game since his retirement in 2018. But Toure has a great desire to stay ahead.
“I am a Muslim man and I thank Allah because I never thought I could play for the clubs I did,” he said.
“I don’t think I was the most talented player in the world, in Africa or in my country. But I was blessed with the right time, I was blessed to be lucky to have Arsene Wenger catch me. Because that is where it all started.
“The first thing is to have the knowledge. That’s why I do the Pro license. Because if you want to stand out and bring the best to the players, you have to learn the best philosophy of football.
“You have to learn the best way to coach players. That’s why I’m doing my badge here because I know I’m getting the best advice, the best management skills, the best way to coach players, communicate with players, influence the players – that’s the important thing.
“Some of my friends who were playing might not have thought of that. But I want to do it because I think Africa needs it. Africa needs people who can inspire them. It is difficult. You put yourself out there and it will be difficult.
“But there must always be one person to start – and then the rest will follow.”
He attributes his success in his playing career to the discovery by Arsene Wenger